What if we had the power to change people? What if we could compel them to act humanely? Would we use that power? Should we?
In some of my wild fantasies as humane educator, I dream of creating a huge Humane World Empire; I’ve joked with my husband and friends that the motto of this organization would be “compassion through coercion.”
The more we learn about all the suffering and injustice and destruction in the world, the more we want it to stop. Right now. And the more our desire can grow to hurry people up on their own journeys to a more humane lifestyle. It can become so easy to want to give people a little nudge onto the “right path.” To “help” them change their minds through sheer force of one’s own mental will, almost like a no-touch Vulcan mind meld. It’s appealing to wish for that divine touch – one little “doink” on their shoulder, and they see what you see; feel what you feel; believe what you believe. And the world becomes a better place….
There’s something really alluring about wanting to try on that cloak of power over others: you know in your heart that, unlike others, you wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to manipulate others—you know that your convictions are true and pure and for the betterment of the world.
But, Hitler thought his beliefs were for the betterment of the world. Slave owners and colonialists thought that they were doing the “poor savages” a favor by civilizing them and teaching them the value of hard work. Some of our government officials have the strongest of convictions that they are personally doing God’s will in ridding the world of terror and trees and trade restrictions. Though I might have the best of intentions in compelling everyone to act humanely – who could disagree with a world full of humane people? – my own view of right and wrong, good and evil, as manifested in the actions of others, might translate into destruction and violence.
Though the goal may seem good, trying to compel others to live humanely won’t work. One of humanity’s most treasured gifts is our power of choice and free will – to take that away would make us less. Additionally, though it seems like it would be nice to be able to blink my eyes or click my heels and have everyone immediately begin to make humane choices, we can’t create a humane world by forcing people to comply with something they haven’t freely chosen. We have daily evidence that compelled obedience doesn’t work: murder, rape, pollution, discrimination, child abuse, slave labor, drug use, corruption, speeding in a school zone – we have laws in the U.S. that prohibit all of these, yet they are still daily occurrences. If we ask everyone whether these behaviors are wrong, most people will say yes; that hasn’t stopped people from committing these acts anyway. Yet, for every act of violence or evil, there are many of us who have consciously made different choices. And that number is steadily growing.
Creating a humane world can only happen by increasing the number of people who choose to live humanely of their own free will. And that can only happen by our choice as humane educators to compassionately and joyfully inspire and educate others about humane issues, make them aware of the positive choices available…and then let them choose their own paths for themselves.
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